Your Year Around Flower and Garden Guide

Pruning and Training Apple Trees an How-to

Apple tree diagramPruning their apple trees is a challenge for many gardeners and they the central leader system for pruning trees. In this system, the trunk or central leader supports three to five scaffold branches (fruiting branches connected to the trunk). Your goal is to develop and maintain the scaffold branches at a minimum of 60 from the trunk, so that the tree is somewhat cone-shaped. This type of pruning allows light and air to reach every part of the tree, aiding in disease prevention and helping fruit to ripen.

Pruning of the apple tree

Begin pruning at planting time. Remove any suckers from the base of your tree, any branches that are lower than 30 inches from the ground and any branches that compete with the leader. Next, select four to five of the remaining branches as your scaffold branches. Choose those that angle closest to 60 from the trunk. Scaffold branches should be spaced at least a vertical half-foot apart. Prune out the rest of the branches. Trim scaffold branches so that the topmost branches are the shortest and the lowest branches have the widest spread.
After the initial pruning, your tree needs annual touchups to:

1) maintain the conical shape
2) remove any dead, broken, or diseased branches
3) remove any vertical “water spouts” (these branches are vigorous vertical branches, which compete with the central leader).
4) remove any suckers from the roots or the lower trunk of the tree
5) remove any downward growing branches
6) new growth in the middle or upper part of the tree

Undertake annual pruning in late winter before the tree begins to bud.

If your trees have a tendency towards strong vertical growth, you need to train them to grow in a more horizontal mode. Training branches to grow at 60 from the trunk slows down production of new leaves, new branch growth, and encourages fruiting. In addition, branches grown at wide angles are stronger and therefore better able to support the weight of the fruit.
To train branches, use a spreader, wedged between the branch and trunk, forcing the branch to grow at a wider angle. Spreaders are readily available at garden centers, but if you only need one or two, a strong, notched stick also works well. Remember to remove spreaders at the end of each growing season.

So no more fear of pruning your apple tree, and we have articles more articles about this issue available: